Jags up, Colts down: AFC South upside down as Jacksonville whomps Indy

·3 min read

No matter how fast a driver you are, no matter how much time you’ve spent in the passing lane of life, there will come a time when a speeding car rolls up fast in your rear-view mirror. Whether you’ve slowed or the younger drivers are driving faster these days doesn’t matter. The world has caught up to you.

In a development totally unrelated to that metaphor: the Jacksonville Jaguars skull-dragged the Indianapolis Colts, 24-0, on Sunday, largely because 22-year-old Trevor Lawrence thoroughly outplayed 37-year-old Matt Ryan.

The opening drives of each team set the tone. Ryan took the Colts 35 yards to the Jacksonville 40 … and proceeded to throw an interception straight into the gut of safety Rayshawn Jenkins. Lawrence took over and proceeded to complete eight straight passes to drive Jacksonville into the end zone and a 7-0 lead.

For whatever reason, Jacksonville has beaten Indianapolis at home for eight straight years. The most notable of those thumpings came last year, when Indianapolis – 9-7 at the time – came to 2-14 Jacksonville needing only a victory to reach the playoffs. Indianapolis lost 26-11, and then-starting QB Carson Wentz lost his job.

In came Matt Ryan, whose potential Hall of Fame run with Atlanta had run its course. With Ryan joining 2021 rushing leader Jonathan Taylor on a team that was one win from the playoffs last season, hopes ran high – like, “dark horse Super Bowl contender” high. After last week’s tie with the lowly Texans and this week's Jacksonville debacle, nobody is saying that now.

The Jaguars, on the other hand, deserve reconsideration. Under new head coach Doug Pederson – and out from under the galactic incompetence of Urban Meyer – the Jags hit Sunday more motivated and aggressive than they looked in the entirety of 2021. The defense intercepted Ryan three times, sacked him five times and hurried him another 11 times. Twice the Colts fought down inside Jacksonville's 10-yard line, and twice the Colts came away empty.

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 18: Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) throws a pass under pressure form Indianapolis Colts defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (91) during the game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars on September 19, 2022 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fl. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence went 25-of-30 for 235 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's home victory against the Colts. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On the other side of the ball, Christian Kirk justified Jacksonville’s faith in him and quieted the “they spent how much?” doubters who questioned his four-year, $72 million offseason deal by snaring two touchdowns on 78 yards receiving. Lawrence spread the ball around to eight receivers, finishing with 235 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions on 25 of 30 completions.

After a glittering college football career that ended in his No. 1 selection overall in last year’s draft, Lawrence has spent most of his NFL career stuck in first gear. Given the chance to open up, and against a team that didn’t put up much fight, Lawrence looks like he’s ready to take the next step. He’ll get the chance against the Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles over the next two weeks, followed by games against Atlanta and Houston. By then, Jacksonville will have established its full 2022 identity … and so will the rest of the AFC South.

Life gets no easier for Indianapolis, who must face Kansas City next week, followed by Tennessee and Denver.

Conventional wisdom was that Ryan still had a couple good years left in his arm, but judging from this game, conventional wisdom was off by a couple of years. Indianapolis has had five different starting quarterbacks to open the past five seasons, and if Ryan can’t up his game in a hurry, it will be six in six.

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Contact Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.